You may have seen them around campus, in some sort of circular formation kicking around a hacky sack. Maybe you avoided eye contact, or maybe you fought the temptation to join in. Either way, what you probably didn’t know is that they were members of the Penn State Footbag Club…or that we have a footbag club, or that footbag is a word. Well, it is, and the Footbag Club has been kickin’ it (pun very much so intended) for two years now.
According to president Ivan Iakimenko, the club started because a few people already interested in footbag thought it would be nice to get some funding and facilities from the university. What started out with three people has now risen to 20 or 30 total members.
“Pretty much the goal is to personally get better at footbag,” says Iakimenko.
Seems simple enough, although if you are as uncoordinated as I am, you know it’s not. According to Iakimenko, though, footbag isn’t that hard at all.
“We have a few members who have never kicked anything in their life before,” says Iakimenko. “The pool is so small right now that you don’t have to be born with talent to get good. It’s not like the Olympics where only certain people have the leg type or whatever to be great.”
Footbaggers play at different levels and can use different kinds of tricks when they freestyle. When they put together a combination of tricks, it’s called a “string.”
“There are variations of the tricks adding elements to look harder or go faster. They can be combined in an infinite number of ways,” says Iakimenko. “You can make up your own tricks, but there’s a good chance someone has already done it before, unless you have really weirdly shaped legs or something.”
And why is it called footbag instead of hacky sack? Iakimenko says hacky sack is the brand name of a product patented by Wham-O and, unlike footbags, they are fuller and covered with leather. Footbags have a soft exterior and an emptier interior, which allows for more control when doing tricks.
Footbag is a small underground sport that has been in place for around 60 years now boasting about 3,000 to 4,000 members worldwide, but Iakimenko says this has its perks, such as being able to travel to international competitions easily. He says you can always expect “free food and a free place to crash.”
Competition can be Routine, which is choreographed to music; Circle, which is a “hack circle” where everyone tries to do better than their previous opponent; or even Team Collaboration at larger events where all the members’ scores are combined.
“You see these world-class players at World’s, like people who are getting paid to do this,” say Iakimenko. “You always wanted to kick with them, and they’re so down to earth and they always get excited no matter what your skill level is. It’s like being on a basketball court with Lebron.”
And as far the preconceived notion that hacky sack is only for potheads, Iakimenko makes it clear that it’s a lot more intense than that. “The stigma to hacky sacking is that it’s a bunch of stoners wasting time. But it’s a really intense cardio-vascular workout. Some of the best guys can burn 2,500-3,000 calories in two or three hours.”
There’s a great sense of community within the sport of footbag. “It’s a very close community, and we’re one of the bigger clubs in the country,” says Iakimenko.
Penn State’s Footbag Club meets Wednesdays and Fridays around 4 p.m. at the HUB or Old Main, or the IST bridge if its raining. It posts meeting times and locations on its Facebook page.
“It’s a lot of fun. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it for two or three hours a day, four to five times a week. It takes a certain kind of person to like it,” says Iakimenko. “All it takes, though, is putting in a few hours and seeing your advancement.”
To see how awesome their moves are, you can check out this video from Arts Fest. Note the disclaimer at the beginning. Footbag Club’s just keepin’ it real.
Although it looks intense, footbag can be for everyone. “It’s not as hard as it looks and most people that try it have a lot of fun. All you need is a footbag, shoes, and some short shorts,” say Iakimenko.
Why short shorts you ask? “We need a lot of mobility of our legs, and so the footbag doesn’t get in our clothing,” he says.